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Ashtanga Fluffers Anonymous

Hi, name is Shanna and I am an Ashtanga Fluffer….ex that is…with some…er… many  unfortunate re-occurrences from time to time.  What is fluffing? Fluffing is when you add unnecessary movements to the Ashtanga sequence like readjusting the hand 4 or 5 times before settling into Revolved Side Angle or fixing the yoga mat towel every other pose. Why is fluffing to be avoided? It takes you out of the vinyasa and the flow of the practice. Pattabhi Jois felt that the flow and placement of the practice was so important that he systematized the counts and even wrote a book, “Yoga Mala” just so you would get it right. He often quoted this verse from the Yoga Karunta, or some other book eaten by ants, “Oh, yogi, do not do asana without vinyasa.”

Vinyāsa (/vɪnˈjɑːsə/ vi-nyaah-sa; Kannada;Sanskrit: विन्यास; IAST:vinyāsa) is a Sanskrit term often employed in relation to certain styles of yoga, that usually refers to a transition between two different positions. The term vinyāsa may be broken down into its Sanskritic roots to assist in decoding its meaning. Nyasa denotes “to place” and vi denotes “in a special way.” Like many Sanskrit words, vinyāsa is a term that has many meanings.- Wikipedia

 

Important reasons to do correct vinyasa

 

  • Moving meditation- Until you experience it, it can’t even be explained. Once you do, you want it again and again and again.
  • Heat-heats up the body and lubricates the joints
  • Resets the body- Vinyasas like the jump through and jump back and the lift ups of Second Series, reset the body in between poses.
  • Resets the mind- Vinyasas like Smasthitihi represent a return to the beginning. They become erasers of the previous pose and bring us back to the present moment.
  • Strength
  • Flexibility
  • Breath control- Staying on count serves as a beginners pranayama because the synchronization of breath and movement requires control.
  • Discipline
  • Self control
  • Lubricates the muscles and joints
  • Prepares the body for poses to come
  • Frees up stuck energy
  • Energizing
  • Detoxifying
  • Clears the digestive system
  • Clears the sinuses
  • Because Pattabhi Jois and Krishnamacharya said so.  There is definitely room in yoga for innovation. After all, both Pattabhi Jois and Krishnamacharya were innovators. This innovation came from decades of experience and immersion in yoga including asana, pranayama, meditation, the study of ancient texts and living the lifestyle of a yogi. It always surprises me how quickly people discount information passed on from teachers who have studied yoga for over 70 + years because of something they picked up in a workshop or a 200 hour course. Yes, innovation doesn’t need decades but it does need extensive knowledge that is gleaned from living yoga and objective research on and off the mat.
  • It works
  • Efficient-The vinyasas are the most efficient way to transition, enter and exit poses. Efficiency saves time and conserves energy.
  • Sets up alignment- The alignment of Ashtanga is built into the vinyasa. When you jump through, your hips are square. When you pivot your foot for triangle, your hips are turned to the wall. Pretty much any alignment that matters in Asthanga is set up through Vinyasa.

 

All of my Ashtanga teachers, every single one of them, have told me not to fluff but there was always this nagging voice inside that felt like I needed to get somewhere and fluffing was the key. I convinced myself that those little movements were critical. At some point, a few of them were. Fluffing often starts as a necessary movement like pushing the leg to the side on a twist but then continues on long after it is even needed….and we don’t realize it.

 

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It took about 10 or so years of practicing Ashtanga before I became a believer. It hit me one day that, after about 10 years of Ashtanga, I was still fluffing. I knew that I should move on count and I was waiting on some magical moment for it to happen. I realized there was no magic. If I didn’t take out the extra stuff, it was going to be there forever. I took out major stuff like the Pigeons and Double Pigeons…..if you  are looking for those in the Yoga Mala, they are not there. Yet, I thought they were critical. Turns out. They were not. My hips actually opened faster when I took them out. Yep. They did. Because keeping the correct Vinyasa prepared my hips just fine. I just didn’t believe it. I had some mythical idea of what open hips were supposed to look like that I picked up from God knows where.  What really opened my eyes was attending Hot Vinyasa. Don’t judge me.  I noticed that many  students, in Hot Vinyasa, could lay belly down to the floor in Frog pose but they couldn’t do full Lotus if their life depended on it. What was the missing link?  I discovered that learning Lotus required that I ….do Lotus…or at least approximate it.

After that major insight, I thought my fluffing was gone….then I met Peg Mulqueen.  I, who at the time was a Second series practitioner,  walked into Mysore class and got stopped in standing poses. I thought my standing poses were rocking. I thought wrong. The flufferation and missed vinyasa markers were substantial enough to warrant a stern talking to on how second series practitioners should not be missing vinyasas. Okay. Ouch. Later on in a workshop with Peg, I still didn’t get it. I had convinced myself that there was no way I could come into Revolved Side Angle without fluffing. I thought, “Peg Mulqueen is crazy”. Then she made  me do it. I immediately pointed out to her that it was not deep enough and I don’t know what she said exactly but it was something like, ” deep enough for who?” or “why do you need to go deeper?”  I did it again and she said something along the lines of “what is wrong with that pose? There is nothing wrong with that pose!”

That is when it dawned on me.  I had a girl crush on Peg Mulqueen and yoga is about undoing our subconscious patterns. It is about questioning the assumptions that drive our daily actions and create our life.   Where in the world had I gotten the idea that my Revolved Side Angle was not good enough? It wasn’t from the Yoga Mala. Here I was, an Ashtanga practitioner, who didn’t even have faith in the method she was practicing. I was going outside the marriage and I didn’t even have a good reason. Not really. My Revolved Side Angle was plenty deep. It was just another form of fluffing.

 

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Fluffing is subtle..in intermediate and advanced practitioners. For instance, those extra movements to grab the wrists in Marichyasana when grabbing the hand on count would do just fine. You know, the pushing on the leg. The leaning back. The extra reach backward and to the side.  You could do all that…or you could lengthen the breath and use those extra seconds to reach straight for the wrist…on count. Many times those extra movements take the body in and out of alignment in an unsafe way. I challenge you to really pay attention the next time you do a fluffing extravaganza. Maybe the knee joint opens because you learn back and do some hip swings to come into Lotus.  Maybe the pelvis tilts backwards in Marichyasana because you lean back to deepen the twist.  In Eka Pada Sirsasana, you do some hips swings and the pelvis tilts up and the spine rounds to make up for it. Just watch.

Again, fluffing is taking movements that are not necessary for executing the pose.  For a newbie, it may take a few breaths to grab a hand in Marichyasana. If you can do it without it, do it without it. I am not going to lie. Cutting out fluffing is hard. You will get frustrated. It is like trying to wean a child off a pacifier or teaching them to self sooth….except you are the child. I had a strong identification with my fluffing. I spent 13 years wiping my sweat like a mad woman before back bends…it wasn’t optional….or so I thought. I still do it around Kapotasana, but I digress.

Fluffing can keep us from seeing the big picture of the practice. By continuously searching for depth in the asanas, we avoid  developing depth within. By continuously stopping the flow of our practice to adjust a block or grab a strap, we stop transformation on an energetic level. This transfers to our life. By continuously climbing up the ladder, over scheduling ourselves, working for the next best thing, thereby fluffing up our lives, we do the opposite of what the Yoga Sutras say is the ultimate state of yoga. Instead of “the seer abiding in his own nature”, we are abiding in an external illusion of depth and turning the gaze away from the Self. When we are constantly redirecting our life from one “next best thing” to another without establishing roots in any one endeavor, we rob ourselves of success.

The best way to banish fluffing is by attending traditional guided classes where the teacher stays on count. If that is not feasible, practice one day a week to a YouTube video of traditional led Primary like the one below.

 

 

If practicing Mysore style, challenge yourself to make  it through a section of the practice with no extra movements. Gradually start making the sections longer and longer. You will start to reap the benefits listed above and your practice will become easeful and eventually less strenuous. It is like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for yoga. When survival is taken care of, the mind will naturally gravitate to higher pursuits. The same happens in yoga. When you no longer have to worry about deepening or what to do when or stopping to fluff, the mind naturally moves towards a state of meditation and awakening. Don’t believe me. Try it for yourself.

Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail shanna@ashtangayogaproject.com.

2 Comments

  • Deb

    Thank you for this blog. I started working with a new teacher in July. I am a long time practitioner as well. She was on my case about those extra movements and I love your term “fluffing”. It’s perfect! Without the fluffing I became so much more focused on the counts and what I was doing to get into a posture. It is amazing and can be done, you just have to want to! I hope you don’t mind if I share this with my group and let them know it’s time to eliminate the fluffing!

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